On Friday, the White House reversed itself and said that Joe Biden would raise the refugee cap by May 15 after allies and progressives blasted the president for keeping it at the historically low rate of 15,000 set by Donald Trump.
A statement issued on Friday by White House press secretary Jen Psaki saying that the administration expected to increase the number of refugees allowed into the country for the remainder of the year. But she added that Biden’s initial promise of admitting 62,500 refugees “seems unlikely.”
Her clarification came hours after the White House said it would maintain the historically low cap first set by the Trump administration — a statement that broke a pledge Biden made in February to raise the number, and one that Psaki acknowledged caused “confusion.”
Biden also addressed on Saturday that his administration’s backtracking.
“The problem was that the refugee part was working on the crisis that ended up on the border with young people,” Biden said, according to a pool report. “We couldn’t do two things at once. But now we are going to increase the number.”
The episode marked a rare flip-flop-flip for the president, and it yielded a barrage of denunciations from key allies who’d previously heaped praise on the administration for promising to rebuild the refugee resettlement program. Faith-based organizations that had lent valuable weight to Biden’s moral case against Trump during the election, said they still felt betrayed even after the White House issued its clarifying statement.
“We used to allow refugees – 125,000 refugees in the United States yearly,” Biden said during a CNN town hall in February. “It was as high as 250,000. Trump cut it to 5,000. Come with me into Sierra Leone. Come with me into parts of Lebanon. Come with me around the world and see people piled up in camps, kids dying, no way out, refugees fleeing from persecution. We, the United States, used to do our part. We were part of that. We were – and, you know, that’s – you know, ‘send me your huddled masses.’ Come on.”
But the president is now walking back on a promise to open America’s doors to 62,500 refugees this fiscal year and is keeping Trump’s historically low cap of 15,000 in place, per a directive the president issued on Friday.
The White House said Biden by May 15 would announce a new, increased refugee cap after this story was published.
Biden is also moving to speed up admissions and change the regional allocation of refugees, ending a Trump policy that effectively disqualified most refugees from African and Muslim-majority countries.
The president’s decision-making on this has seemingly been influenced by Republican criticism over his administration’s handling of a historic number of migrant arrivals at the US-Mexico border in recent months. GOP leaders have referred to the surge as a “crisis,” blaming it on Biden’s more welcoming immigration messaging.
Human rights groups, refugee advocates, and some congressional Democrats ripped into Biden’s decision to retain Trump’s refugee cap.
“Completely and utterly unacceptable,” said Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York. “Biden promised to welcome immigrants, and people voted for him based on that promise. Upholding the xenophobic and racist policies of the Trump admin, [including] the historically low + plummeted refugee cap, is flat out wrong. Keep your promise.”
Biden has “broken his promise to restore our humanity,” according to Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington state.
“This is incredibly disappointing. The U.S. is the most powerful nation in the world and we can’t do better?” Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, tweeted on Friday.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez responded to Biden’s decision and described the policy as “completely and utterly unacceptable.”
“Biden promised to welcome immigrants, and people voted for him based on that promise,” Ocasio-Cortez continued. “Upholding the xenophobic and racist policies of the Trump admin, incl the historically low + plummeted refugee cap, is flat out wrong.”
“Keep your promise,” she added.
Completely and utterly unacceptable. Biden promised to welcome immigrants, and people voted for him based on that promise.
Upholding the xenophobic and racist policies of the Trump admin, incl the historically low + plummeted refugee cap, is flat out wrong.
Keep your promise. https://t.co/A82xYf1XpR
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) April 16, 2021
Also, Rep. Ilhan Omar condemned the policy and said “There are simply no excuses for today’s disgraceful decision.”
“It goes directly against our values and risks the lives of little boys and girls huddled in refugee camps around the world,” Omar continued, adding, “I know because I was one.”
There are simply no excuses for today’s disgraceful decision.
It goes directly against our values and risks the lives of little boys and girls huddled in refugee camps around the world.
I know, because I was one.
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) April 16, 2021